Things fall apart so that things can fall together.
I once wrote a children’s book called Mistakes are Great. I wanted to alert kids that mistakes aren’t something to fear or avoid, they’re something to welcome with open arms. In fact, cultivating a love of mistakes is a secret sauce for all the best entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and new product developers.
Take James Dyson, for example. Inspired by an industrial cyclone at a timber mill, Dyson set out to invent an unorthodox vacuum cleaner—one with no bag, no dust, no clogging and no loss of suction. Along the way he made some 5,000 mistakes, but, within 18 months of hitting the market, Dyson was the world’s best-selling vacuum.
“I love mistakes,” says Dyson, “it’s a necessity as an engineer. Each iteration of my vacuum came about because of a mistake I needed to fix. What’s important is that I didn’t stop at the first failure, the 50th, or the 5,000th.”
Many of our most successful writers aren’t really writers—they are re-writers. They jot down an imperfect line and then patiently re-work it over and over into something good—the same way a sculptor progressively forms a ball of clay.
All creative organizations are learning organizations, or should be; they are students of everyone’s mistakes, including and especially their own. And they look at setbacks or failures as simply “practice shots.”
“To swear off making mistakes is easy,” said legendary ad man Leo Burnett. “All you have to do is swear off having ideas.”
Instead, “fail forward.” Here’s the principle: Whenever you undertake a new project or idea, try to make as many mistakes as rapidly as possible in order to learn as much as you can in the shortest period of time. Your mistakes are trying to tell you something. Learn from them, research them, use them to propel you and your company forward.
And when things go wrong, have faith. Realize that breakdowns can create breakthroughs. Things fall apart so that things can fall together.
- Mistakes are great.
- Never let successive mistakes or failures get you down.
- By learning the wrong way, we eventually discover the right way.